Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday that the closure of all schools, including private and parochial schools, in Montgomery County was “overly broad,” and he has issued an order to stop it.
The move comes after Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles announced last Friday an order for such schools to remain closed to in-person instruction through Oct. 1, citing increased COVID-19 transmission rates in the D.C. area.
“The recovery plan for Maryland public schools stresses local flexibility within the parameters set by state officials,” Hogan said in a statement.
Public school boards and superintendents had made decisions regarding the start of class “after consultation with state and local health officials. Private and parochial schools deserve the same opportunity and flexibility to make reopening decisions based on public health guidelines,” Hogan said.
“The blanket closure mandate imposed by Montgomery County was overly broad and inconsistent with the powers intended to be delegated to the county health officer,” Hogan said.
The governor added, “As long as schools develop safe and detailed plans that follow CDC and state guidelines, they should be empowered to do what’s best for their communities.”
The Archdiocese of Washington was “grateful” to learn about the order, they said in a statement Monday afternoon.
“We will continue to work with our educators and communities to ensure the safe reopening of the schools of the Archdiocese of Washington and continue to place the health and well-being of our children at the forefront of our efforts.”
Meanwhile, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich tweeted Monday afternoon: “Our decision to restrict nonpublic schools from in-person instruction was made with one concern in mind — protecting the public health of our residents. It was not an easy decision. As we have done throughout this pandemic, we used data and science to guide us — not politics.”
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said, “One might think there’s been sufficient evidence that science should trump politics during a pandemic; apparently not. Clarity and certainty are essential for Marylanders. Arbitrary, discretionary second-guessing will only worsen this crisis.”
Gayles on Monday maintained that closing the schools was in the best interests of keeping people safe in the light of increased coronavirus cases across the county and state.
Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith announced on July 21 that the school system would continue with virtual learning. At the time, he said the decision was made after consulting with Gayles.
Asked about Hogan’s revised order on Monday and whether that would affect MCPS, spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala wrote, “At this time, we are going to continue to present the virtual-only instructional model for the first semester to our board for adoption on August 6.”
Montgomery County is also home to a private school attended by Barron Trump, the 14-year-old son of President Donald Trump.
In Prince George’s County, the public school system sent out its newsletter describing the plan for reopening, which will include virtual learning for the first and second quarters.
High school sports postponed for fall, winter
Maryland high school fall and winter sports have been postponed, the state’s governing body announced Monday.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association said in a statement that the move “comes in light of the recent announcements of local school systems to begin education virtually and provides each school system with options for the gradual increase of student engagement for the physical and social-emotional health of students.”
Waiver regulations on student engagement that were approved by the state Board of Education can now be used.
“The health and safety of student participants, coaches and officials is a primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” the association said.
Positive test rate down; infections up among young
Meanwhile, Hogan’s office said in a statement Monday that the state’s seven-day average positivity rate for COVID-19 testing is 4.36%, the second-lowest on record.
The statement from the governor’s office also said that current hospitalizations are down slightly, to 548, but warned about the new prevalence of COVID-19 among younger adults: Nearly 60% of Maryland’s 870 new patients on Monday are under 40 years old, and that the positivity rate for those under 35 is 6.04% — higher than the statewide average, and well above the rate for those older than 35 (3.53%).
Hogan’s office also said that community testing sites will not be performing tests Tuesday, as Isaias approaches the area.
WTOP’s Kate Ryan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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